That Pain in Your Neck
The Micro Business Handbook
22 June 2016
People who work from home are more likely to suffer from work-related injuries such as neck and back problems, according to new research from Bupa.
One of the big problems I have faced over the last 20 years, as I have built my writing business, is how to stay fit and avoid injuries when spending upwards of 10 hours a day at my desk.
The findings, released on National Work From Home Day, reveal that over half of home-workers (51%) have sustained injuries, aches and pains as a result of their working environment, which is 10 per cent1 more likely than those working in a ‘traditional’ workplace. As flexible working can have health and wellbeing benefits, Bupa has created a checklist to support employers and their employees whether they are working from their kitchen table or sofa
The research highlighted that not having the right work set-up at home could be the cause, one in four (25%) home-workers do not have a dedicated workspace at home and half (50%) of home-workers admit to hunching over while working. 40 per cent said they regularly work from their bed or sofa, all of these factors increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury, with the most common problems experienced being backache (24%) and neck-ache (20%).
And it is not only physical health that is at risk. Nearly half (47%) of workers say they work longer hours when at home compared to their primary place of work, and often longer than stated in their contract. Over a prolonged period this can result in increased levels of fatigue and stress.
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However, the study found that working from home does also come with a range of health benefits. The flexible nature of home working means that three in five (58%) are able to build exercise into their day, and the same proportion say they eat more healthily. Two thirds (66%) say they are able to take regular breaks from their work area, which is good for both mental and physical health.
Damian McClelland, Clinical Director for Musculoskeletal Services, Bupa UK said: “Working from home is a flexible benefit which is growing in popularity, however there are physical risks involved if people do not take the same precautions as they do in the workplace. Employers ensure their employees have an appropriate workspace at work, if someone doesn’t regularly work from home they may not have ergonomic furniture or the correct technology needed to avoid physical health issues, such as neck and back pain.”
“Working from home is a flexible benefit which is growing in popularity, however there are physical risks involved if people do not take the same precautions as they do in the workplace.”
All of this could result in time off work which Bupa have created a home-working health checklist:
- Work in a room with adequate light so you don’t have to strain your eyes.
- Sit in a chair where your feet can reach the floor, or are supported by a footrest.
- Ensure your monitor is at least an arm’s length away from you and the top of the monitor is at eye level.
- Try to use a hands-free phone line and avoid typing/writing with a phone between your ear and shoulder, as this can lead to neck problems.
- Try to break more regularly than you would in an office as your posture is likely to be worse at home, ideally every 20 – 30 minutes.
- Make time to stretch out to avoid stiffness, particularly if you spend a long period of time in the same position.
I have written about ergonomics for several years and practice many of its basic principles. A diagnostic question to ask yourself is do you suffer from aching shoulders or neck muscles, tight as knots after a writing session? If you do have aches or pains in your neck, back, legs or forearms, these are warning signs that you definitely need to make changes to your working space. The pains may disappear after a few hours but if they return, they could turn into longer term chronic problems such as RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or other MSDs (Musculoskeletal Disorders).
Simple changes to your working space can often produce dramatic improvements. For example, changing the angle of your wrists when using the mouse reduces compression and strain. Applied ergonomics can avoid or relieve this kind of discomfort.
Recently I have invested in a sit/stand desk. I chose the Ikea Bekant desk as it fitted in the space my old desk occupied and its was economical to buy. Having read a number of conflicting stories about the actual benefits of a sit/stand desk, I decided the only way to know for sure was to test it myself.
The desk assembles very easily indeed. As a veteran Ikea builder, the desk was fast and simple to put together. Once completed, I set about thinking about cable management, as this is a constant problem in my office. The desk comes with a hammock that fits under the desk to route cables away from your feet – avoiding any trip accidents.
Of course, the important aspect of this desk is how the sit/stand mechanism works. I can report that this is smooth when moving up and down. Simply pressing and holding the control buttons activates the motors that are built into the legs of the table. The first time you move the desk is somewhat of a revelation, having not stood at a desk to do any work before.
My desk has two 27” inch iMacs on it that I used as dual monitors. The desk is solid enough to support them without any issues. When seated at the desk with the lifting mechanism closed the desk behaved like my old Ikea desk.
However, I have noticed that when I raise the desk and type, sometimes the vibration can make my monitors wobble a little. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, and I think the movement is simply because I have two large computers on my desk. If you use a notebook PC or even a tablet, as your primary computer, I don’t think you will see any movement at all.
Also, this desk is ideal for me as I am 5’ 11’’ tall. The desk’s maximum height is well think what I would call comfortable for me when I am standing. However, if you are over six-foot-tall, this desk might not go high enough for you to work comfortably, which would defeat the point of having the desk. And at its maximum height of 125cm, it might be too unstable if you have large monitors on your desk as I do.
Having used the desk for over a year I have been steadily increasing the amount of time I spend standing at the desk. I have though, found when I need to type for longer periods, I am more comfortable seated. But when I am doing general work at my workstation I stand.
The question of course is do I feel any fitter? I think so, as I believe my overall fitness is much better than it was. Less back and neck pain for sure. I think the sit/stand debate certainly goes on, but for me the move to this kind of working posture seems to be working.